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Weld County dairy worker dies after falling into manure pit

WELD COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- A food and farmers advocacy group started a GoFundMe to help the family of a farmworker who recently died from a dairy accident. His death now calls into question the safety of agricultural workers.

Juan Panzo Temoxtle, an immigrant from Mexico, died on March 31, after falling into a manure pit while working at Shelton Dairy in La Salle.

According to Project Protect Food Systems Workers, Panzo was operating a manure vacuum truck when it fell into a manure pit, completely submerging the cab of the truck, with him trapped inside.

Workers nearby were unable to lift the truck out of the pit. It wasn't until 30 minutes later when a helicopter was able to pull him out.

Project Protect Food Systems Workers says Panzo was taken to North Colorado Medical Center but reportedly died from hypoxic injuries sustained in the accident.

Now, Front Line Farming, a BIPOC/women-led food and farmers advocacy group, set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to provide financial support to his family in Mexico. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

"Juan came to the United States to have a better future for his kids, but unfortunately God had another plan for him. Juan wanted his kids to have a career and have a better future. He worked so hard for us. We depended on Juan, and now we have no one to depend on, no one to support us,” said Serafina Caliuhua Gonzalez, Panzo's wife, to Project Protect Food Systems Workers.

In addition to the GoFundMe fundraiser, Project Protect Food Systems Workers is now calling on local leaders to take action towards protecting farmworkers, specifically immigrant workers.

"Agricultural workers have been historically excluded from worker’s rights legislation both nationally and in Colorado because the work is and has been done by black and brown workers. Undocumented workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and at risk for [harm] from unjust or unsafe working conditions because their legal status makes their presence and ability to earn a living in the United States very precarious. Many employers take unfair advantage of this dramatic power difference,” said Nicole Civita, a food, agricultural, and labor lawyer and Project Protect Food Systems Workers’ Policy Director.

In a press release from Project Protect Food Systems, they state Panoz's co-workers who witnessed his death, were forced to continue working that day and were not provided with any trauma counseling or other supportive services.

According to the advocacy group, Shelton Diary has not reached out to his family and claim Panzo's family is not aware of whether or not the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is conducting an investigation.

In February, a new bill was introduced by Colorado lawmakers aimed to protect farmworkers. The Agricultural Workers' Rights focuses on the safety of workers. That includes:

  • Grants agricultural employees meal breaks and rest periods consistent with protections for other employees
  • Requires agriculture employers to provide overwork and health protections to agricultural employees
  • During a public health emergency, requires an agricultural employer to provide extra protection and increased safety precautions for agricultural employees
  • Authorize agricultural employees to organize and join labor unions; engage in protected, concerted activity; and engage in collective bargaining

Those are just a few of the key points SB21-087 focuses on.

State Representative Yadira Caraveo, a sponsor of the bill, shared her condolences to Project Protect Food Systems Workers.

“My prayers are with Mr. Panzo Temoxtle’s family here and in Mexico after their tragic loss. Workers like Juan come here to provide a better future for their families and they provide essential services that keep Coloradans fed and keep our farms and ranches running. We cannot continue to have environments that cost these workers their health and even their lives as they go about their jobs. I will continue to work to ensure that we provide basic protections for farmworkers so that accidents like these do not cost any more lives.”

To help Panzo's family through the GoFundMe, click here.

To read the full press release from Project Protect Food Systems Workers, click here.

To read more on SB21-087, click here.

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Shelby Filangi


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